Labels at work

It can be easy as a manager to label people as bad or good performers. This performance labeling tends to be a convenient way to quickly categorize people. It is efficient for human resources. Once labeled, people can be given promotions or demotions, merit or punitive action, more money or less money. Management and Human resources can now implement programs of the month such as succession planning, employee of the month and so on. This approach seems to have come from the behavioral management theories of the past. These ideas do nicely align with short term thinking and the idea for quick results at any expense.

The dangers of labeling people

Having been labeled people will tend to perform to the level of management’s expectation and no more. Those labeled as good performers will tend to continue to do well without fear or anxiety about how they are perceived. Those however labeled as poor performers will find it difficult to do better under the threat of having to improve. For better management it is wise to avoid this approach.

A better approach

It is a far better approach to look at each person as unique and different. This can be demonstrated through regular development reviews, plans, and an on-going focus on employee development. It is better to invest the time and meet on a regular basis with all employees. Establish regular meetings which are developmentally focused. Make it the employee’s agenda to discuss what they want to do more of, less of, and areas which they are finding difficulty with. Make these development sessions focused on the positive development of each person. Under this approach all people will perform better having their manager show interest and support in their development. Of course, under annual performance evaluations there will be performance ratings and reviews given but these should be separated from the developmental discussion itself. It is common that the developmental discussion rarely occurs as part of the annual review event. Make employee development a process and on-going. This brings great management leverage and both employee and organizational improvement.

Organizational behavior and labeling

There is a tendency in many organizations to rank, rate, and sort people against each other. They produce quickly a list of good people and bad people. The problem with this management tool is that it is mostly subjective and people can be labeled unfairly. Little known to the employee is that they lose out on new opportunities to contribute once their managers had labeled them in negative terms. In many cases just the opposite may be true. Being a better manager step back from a systems view when having difficulty with an employee and ask a few questions. Does the person have the tools to be successful? Is there something in the environment which is preventing success? Is there something I can do as the manager to remove barriers and assist? This mindset will go further towards helping people to succeed at work.

Is there a good employee and a bad employee anyway?

I have not yet met a person who wakes up in the morning and decides it would be a good day to perform poorly at work. Poor performance at work can be attributed to many things. The most common from I have observed is either the person has a wrong fit in his current role, management goals and communications are unclear, or the culture is unhealthy. This can be a result of poor management.

The dangers of ranking and rating

Many firms especially in High Technology have adopted the ranking and rating model of employees. Again, effective in sorting people against each other. Not effective in the long term. Any management process which is purely subjective is bound to cause tension where it is the only way. Better to include people in their own evaluations and next steps. Management can help people to make better contribution to the organization through two way communications, on-going feedback, and more focus on collaboration vs. competition.

Viewing people as a commodity vs. an asset

The Best Manager views all people as assets. The Best Manager is always thinking of where to use people matching high challenges and high skills considering the needs of the business. When people are viewed as assets, management looks proactively how people can be used better. This system gives flexibility for more job rotation, for more cross functional assignments and more feedback. When people are viewed as JUST a commodity the system tends to be more one way directional. People start feeling being used and not appreciated.

Better ideas to replace labeling

Establish a database of abilities and interests. Combine this database with business needs and employee development plans. As new opportunities come up, utilize the database to assist in selecting people for assignments. This helps people to feel vested in the business and less constrained by a job description. This leads to more risk taking and creativity which is a good thing for the organization.

Enable movement throughout the organization

The BEST Manager enables all employees to move from assignment to assignment or job to job despite past performance. Many people become stagnant when they are forced to remain in the same positions year after year. Sales people are told they can’t go into marketing, engineers are told they can’t go into sales, and human resources staff have difficulty moving into business line functions. Moving people around the organization spreads knowledge and enhances learning.

What occurs when people feel included and valued?

The Best Manager knows that when people feel valued at work, they get more done, have better relationships with their peers, and make the culture stronger. When people feel like they are viewed as unique and not labeled or forced to compete against their peers, motivation can increase. The organization and the employees benefit and the BEST Managers just get better!

Craig Nathanson

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